Linking communities through social media: Experiences from the IGATE project in Zimbabwe
Working across 467 schools can be a challenge.Â When those schools are scattered across rural areas of Zimbabwe, the complexities grow even larger.Â In addressing the challenge, the IGATE project* in Zimbabwe has begun using the WhatsApp social media application.Â
The project prioritizes evidence collection and the documentation of key learning points drawn from community membersâ experiences. This requires increased contact time between project implementers and established community groups to provide technical support to the groups and collection of information about them. However, due to the fact that schools are geographically spread out, it is a challenge to bring communities together on a regular basis.
Â Why use the WhatsApp Platform?
In response to this challenge, CARE (through its Girls Leadership Development Specialist) is innovatively utilizing social media through the WhatsApp application as a communication tool with local matrons.Â Using a mobile-based application is breaking ground in Zimbabwe: according to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) data subscribers in Zimbabwe now exceed 5 Million people with 98 percent of them accessing the internet using mobile phones. Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Skype have played a major role in data penetration, as most Zimbabweans have adapted to the new digital trend as a formidable manner to communicate, cutting revenues for the traditional voice operators (The Financial Gazette, 2014).
How is the platform being used? Â Â Â
The use of WhatsApp is proving useful for the IGATE project at two levels: at the community and consortium levels.
At the community level, we have used WhatsApp as a learning platform where established community groups are learning from each other on the challenges and success they are experiencing. This has helped in maintaining community enthusiasm to continue promoting girlsâ education because they know that they are not alone. The WhatsApp platform is working as a mechanism to provide instant feedback on issues which groups may feel they need additional support to deal with them. For example, when community groups feel they need support on the referral pathway to follow when they identify cases of child abuse, particularly those that involve sexual abuse.Â In addition, community groups are using this platform to give updates to project implementers on their planned activities- which helps us support them in their activities and document their story, successes, and challenges.Â Â
The Specifics: The WhatsApp platform is established at the end of matrons training on the girlsâ leadership, âPower Within modelâ, as part of their future plans for each district.Â It is a community owned initiative: the matrons are the ones who select their group administrator following their week-long participation in the training.Â This enables them to identify the strengths of each other and elect a person suitable for becoming an administrator. The project implementing partners (WVZ, CARE and SNV) only play a facilitator role in making sure that the WhatsApp group is established.
There are two major reasons why this platform is established through Power Within matrons. The first one is that, unlike the majority of community members participating in the project through various models, the matrons already have existing smart cell phones which are suitable for the WhatsApp model. Secondly, the matrons participate in the majority of project activities, making them strategically positioned.
In terms of monitoring work, project staff have used this platform as a way of giving reminders to community groups to submit their monthly monitoring forms which are serving as the mechanism for tracking the functionality of groups established - especially Power Within girlsâ leadership clubs and Mothers Group. It has also been recommended as a way of submitting project related information to the database officer such as training registers.
At the Consortium level, the WhatsApp platform has also proven to be useful for CARE in providing technical support to project implementers. Through this platform, technical specialists are able to identify specific districts facing technical challenges on which they later follow-up.
When we began using WhatsApp, it was an experiment in addressing communication problems which were encountered earlier in project implementation. Our experiences thus far have supported the need for clear guidelines on the use of the platform, ensuring that it is used for project updates.Â The use of the app has proven cost effective and affordable. Most people in Zimbabwe now prefer using social media, especially WhatsApp, as opposed to traditional voice calls when communicating. This has helped the project in reducing costs associated with frequent and long trips to the field, and allows them to support more communities on a regular basis.Â Â That being said, the use of the app should not be used as a substitute for the actual physical field visit to the groups.
Written by: Obert Chigodora and Charity Rugube, CARE Zimbabwe
IGATE identifies and addresses barriers to girlsâ education by employing six different but complimentary models:
- Village Savings & Loans (VS&L) âan economic empowerment initiative whose thrust in this project is to improve household income and offset the economic barrier to education;Â
- Communities in Support of Girls Education (CSGE) - a score-carding system that brings the community and duty bearers into interface for healthy dialoguing on policy issues relating to girls education;
- Power Within Â - developing girls' leadership skills to be active learners;Â
- Mothersâ Groups -community structure of parents that provides community education on girls education and provides mentorship for girls;
- Â School Development Committee (SDC)- capacity development on girls sanitary hygiene issues and lastly the
- Bicycle Intervention â provision of bicycles as an affordable and reliable means of transportation to reduce time taken on journeys to and from school.